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Chicago by Charles Eichler

God And Country at
Victory Gardens Theatre

God and Country, which recently opened at Chicago's Victory Garden Theatre, is a valiant attempt to capture the essence of Sophocles' Antigone, which was written in 444 B.C., and bring it to life with contemporary overtones. The efforts of Douglas Post (music and libretto) and director Jim Corti are to be applauded and appreciated. The total production, however, has several flaws which detract from the overall concept.

The original play was presented in Athens, Greece, as part of the Dionysia Drama Festival. It is a classic Greek play that focuses on Antigone's choice between human and divine law. The story begins when her brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, have battled to the death for the crown of Thebes. Their uncle, the newly-crowned King Creon, proclaims that Eteocles is to be buried with full honors, while the corpse of Polynices is to be left on the battlefield to die. Antigone, Polynices' sister, defies Creon's mandate and is sentenced to death by slow suffocation. Unfortunately, tragic fate brings punishment on Creon's insolence and outrage, leaving audiences to ask, should we follow God's law or man's law?

Heavy stuff, even as the title implies. Corti has made several decisive choices in mounting this production. When the audience enters, there is an empty thrust stage flanked by several semi-Greek columns. Ominous, pulsating music and sound effects predict the outcome of the performance. The background is crimson red. When the houselights dim, the three actresses and the four accompanists (who perform the function of the Greek chorus) enter through the aisles, assume their places and the play begins.

The play itself, as the program notes, is about the irresistible force, Antigone, meeting the immovable object, Creon. But casting three women to play the multitude of characters is hard to grasp. As much as the play wants to make a flop of Sophocles' male casting of all the parts, it doesn't work. Even though the three performances by Karla Beard, Jane Blass, and Dina DiCostanzo are brilliant, there is a "male" element that is lacking from the production, either to suggest their dominance over females or their outright power ... good or bad.

The entire production is performed without dialogue and contains 30 songs. It is performed without an intermission. Most of the music is derivative and sounds reminiscent of Evita, Tommy and other rock opera musicals. It just doesn't work.

From the beginning of the show we know that Antigone is doomed, and the rest of the ninety-minute production focuses on the agony she feels in accepting her doom. The three actresses relentlessly change their scarves, put on a costume accessory, energize some forgettable song, adapt different characters ... and this continues without any attempt for subtlety in the production.

Jane Blass is a brassy Creon, from her platinum blonde hair to her gorgeous costume. Karla Beard brings life to Antigone but the portrayal is much overplayed. Dina DiCostanzo brings energy to the characters she plays.

Production values are excellent. Lighting by Jaymi Lee Smith is especially to be commended.

God and Country is an interesting excursion into what could have been outstanding theatre.

God and Country is being performed at Victory Gardens Theatre at 2257 North Lincoln Avenue, through December 29th. For more information, call 773.871.3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org.

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- Charles



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